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Review: The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money (1986)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Premise: A sequel to 1961’s The Hustler. Twenty-five years after the events of the previous film, former pool hustler Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) takes a talented younger man (Tom Cruise) as his protégé.

What Works: 1961’s The Hustler was the story of Fast Eddie, a skilled pool shark who traveled the country working bars and pool halls but found that the life of a competitor had personal costs he wasn’t prepared to stomach. The Color of Money picks up Fast Eddie’s story twenty-five years later. He’s given up pool for dealing in liquor until he meets Vincent, a talented and hungry pool player who is managed by his girlfriend Carmen. Fast Eddie takes Vincent and Carmen under his wing, drawing on his years of experience and in the process Eddie rediscovers his love of pool. The Color of Money was made two-and-a-half decades after its predecessor and the filmmakers do not try to replicate the earlier film. This is a Martin Scorsese picture and it has Scorsese’s distinct filmmaking style. That works for the movie. The shift in style between the two movies accounts for the passage of time and reinforces the different world in which the sequel is set. The Color of Money gets into the pool table action and characterizes the players in the way they hit the balls. The common thread between the films is Paul Newman, reprising his role as Fast Eddie. Although Newman is considerably older, the character from The Hustler remains and Newman combines his previous performance with the wisdom and wear of time. This is the potential strength of belated sequels; the passage of time allows the filmmakers to tell stories that find the characters in new places. Tom Cruise costars as Vincent. The character is interestingly reminiscent of Cruise’s role in Top Gun, which was released the same year. Vincent is among the best at what he does and he knows it and Cruise’s charisma keeps the character from becoming unlikable. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays Carmen and she’s as strong a presence as either Newman or Cruise. A lot is happening underneath Mastrantonio’s performance and her relationship to the two men is complex and evolves over the course of the story. Vincent’s story parallels Eddie’s experience in The Hustler but the older perspective allows the viewer to see all of this in a new way. The great sequels develop and deepen the concepts of the original picture and The Color of Money expands the original themes of success and corruption, bringing Eddie and Vincent’s stories to a pointed conclusion.

What Doesn’t: The Color of Money mostly stands on its own. The movie is a sequel and continues Fast Eddie’s story but its relationship to The Hustler is mostly tangential. This weakens the film in one important respect. The Color of Money finds Fast Eddie rediscovering his passion for pool and competition but the character and the film do not really reckon with the specific events of The Hustler that led Eddie to give up pool.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: The Color of Money is one of the great sequels. The filmmakers use the extended time between this film and its predecessor to tell a fresh story that offers new perspectives on the characters while remaining germane to the original concept.

Episode: #904 (June 5, 2022)